Raising Daedalus: A Close Reading of Joyce’s Portrait

Raising Daedalus: A Close Reading of Joyce’s Portrait

Harry Heuser

Raising Questions

Many a psychologist and psycho-sociologist, including Freud, Piaget and Erikson, has tried to retrace the observable and universal experiences of childhood in terms of distinct patterns in sexual, cognitive or psychosocial development.  Artists, too, have attempted to explore those first rungs of the ladder of life and pondered their implications in relation to adulthood and maturity.  How can a writer, a novelist, setting out to tell a story, capture those distinguishable steps and stages from infancy to adolescence? The narrative restrictions of the novel with its beginning, middle, and end notwithstanding, to what degree can the adult language be modified to convey the fragmented thoughts of an infant, the reasoning of a schoolboy, or the mental processes of an adolescent?  And which devices can the writer employ to create or recreate such a life on the page? 

Selected passages from Joyce’s Bildungs- or Künstlerroman A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man may serve as examples of how gradual changes in diction and syntax can successfully suggest and adequately reflect the mental, social, and sexual development of a young boy.

Oral Pleasures

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.  (7)

From the very beginning, Portrait is above the telegraphic speech of baby talk as it includes both function and content words.  This is in part due to two narrative techniques: the undisclosed third-person narrator who relates the thoughts of the child unless the speaker is clearly identified as Stephen Daedalus (who introduces himself only a little further into the novel by giving his name), as well as the folk tale opening which enables Joyce to cover the earliest stages of the child’s mental and linguistic development.  Thus, both techniques allow Joyce to start ab incunabulis—rather than ab ovo, since the “moocow” tale is told by the father, not the mother—and they immediately establish the cultural and patriarchal building-blocks hurled so early into the linguistic cradle of the unconscious Daedalus in his tradition-harboring nursery.

The complexities of modernist fiction aside, the sentences, although complete, are nonetheless uncomplex (i.e. deliberately simple) and uncompounded.  Their surface structure can be derived directly from their underlying structure, since the constituents, noun phrases (“His father”) and verb phrases (“told him that story”) are not subjected to transformations.  Instead, they are arranged according to the basic syntactic rule that a sentence consists of a noun phrase followed by a verb phrase.  Simple sentences seem to convey simple thoughts here; and the repetition of the noun-phrase-plus-verb-phrase structure certainly adds to the reader’s perception of them as being simple.

Still, the peculiarity of these admittedly simple sentences does not lie entirely in their disconnectedness.  The colon is of significance here; indeed, it may, as is often the case in Joyce’s writing, serve as an interpretive tool.  The three relatively short and simple sentences quoted above are not altogether separate: instead, they link seemingly unconnected sense experiences (involving sight and sound) as one sentence informs the other and both inform the third, even though none of the sentences seem to provide an explanation or elaboration on the previous sentence; that is, not if the reader expects to be presented with an explanation or elaboration of “that story.”  

Although not structured with conjunctions or through clauses depending upon each other, the three asyndetic sentences are nonetheless organized through the use of the colon, and the third may be interpreted as the conclusion of this series of paratactically linked independent clauses: “he had a hairy face.”   In other, more complex words, it is clear that the thought conveyed here is not “His father, who looked at him through a glass, and who had a hairy face, told him that story,” whereas a sentence such as “His father, who told him that story and who looked at him through a glass, had a hairy face,” while capturing that the observer is, in the end, drawn to the hairy face, rather than to the story, suggests a process of deliberation, instead of an infant’s stream of unconsciousness.  

Since the proximity of the sentences on the page alone does not establish the temporal proximity of the experiences related, the colon, as well as the use of paragraphs, link and cluster these experiences for the reader.  Thus, the colon here enables Joyce to convey to his readers the wandering, unfocused observations of a very young child: While the focus, to the father, may be on the tale narrated, the attention of young Daedalus is drawn instead to whatever is immediately before him, namely his father’s monocle (“a glass”) and beard (“a hairy face”). 

In addition to the abovementioned techniques of syntax and punctuation, Joyce also employs a particular lexicon to convey the individual impressions, as well as the traditional background of young Daedalus.  The words in this passage consist of no more than one or two syllables and pertain to objects which are taken from the immediate environment of the child and which are, furthermore, linked to one of his parental caregivers.  Yet the use of minimal vocabulary (“a glass” for monocle and “hairy face” for beard) does more than just imitate the limited vocabulary of a child; it also reveals the strangeness, the otherness of the father, since having names for objects or facial features implies being familiar with them.  The various sensorial stimuli are not yet subjected to reflection or interpretation more complex than the child’s distinction between sameness and otherness.  Clearly, otherness and strangeness hold some attraction and become, regardless of the import and value later ascribed to them, stored in memory.  In short, this first selection from Portrait suggests the earliest impression of a childhood as recollected by the adult.

He was baby tuckoo.  The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.  (7)

This second passage, also taken from the first page of Portrait, appears to be the fragments of the folk tale narrated by the father, since key words from the opening sentence, such as “moocow” and “baby tuckoo,” are repeated in it.   According to Gifford, the story of a “supernatural (white) cow [that] takes children . . . to an island realm where they are relieved of the petty restraints and dependencies of childhood,” is firmly rooted in Irish tradition and was told to Joyce by his own father (131).  The scraps of this tale, when compared to the plot element of the original story as presented by Gifford, already suggest how the child is drawn to certain details of the narrative and reveal a shifting, drifting attention which stands in sharp contrast to traditional storytelling.  

Syntax and punctuation also contribute to the reader’s sense of the child’s unfocused wanderings.  Sentences continue to be quite simple, with the subject usually opening the sentence.  However, while the syntax remains relatively unvaried, the subjects rendered in the noun phrases keep changing.  Is the tale narrated, readers accustomed to traditional plot mechanics may wonder, primarily about “baby tuckoo,” the “moocow,” or “Betty Byrne”?  As readers follow the cow down the road, the colon leads them, once again, to what is, according to young Daedalus, the true gist and juice of that story: in this case, the promises of flavory “lemon platt.”  Thus, the child does not seem to follow the narration but his own observations of the narrator and the discoveries within the tale, which may be more intriguing than the regurgitated moocow tale.  The ambiguous use of the personal pronoun “he,” in “He was baby tuckoo,” the references to a certain “road where Betty Byrne lived” and to “lemon platt” strongly suggest that the child not only lacks an understanding of storytelling techniques, but of the concept of fiction in general as isolated plot elements and individual sense experiences and observations merge in the child’s imagination.

While the lexicon remains quite limited here, vernacular expressions such as “lemon platt” and names such as Betty Byrne already establish the linguistic and cultural heritage of young Daedalus.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary “Lemon Platt” is a “flat sugar-stick, flavoured with lemon” which is “commonly sold as ‘Yellow Man’ at fairs in the North of Ireland” (“Lemon”).  Expecting elucidating examples from literature, Portrait critics are dealt a lemon: only Joyce’s “moocow” sentence is mentioned.  “Tuckoo,” based, perhaps, upon “tuckin’”—Irish slang for a good meal (Gifford 133)—appears to be mainly a slight spin on the standardized onomatopoeia of the cuckoo and moocow variety often used to imitate baby talk.

Thus, the short and simple sentences of these opening paragraphs manage to establish the child’s cultural roots, and to suggest the earliest stages in the child’s cognitive, psychosocial, as well as sexual development, as young Daedalus takes in various sense experiences, distinguishes between objects and between people through contrasts of sameness and otherness, and is drawn to the oral pleasures of “lemon platt,” rather than the oral tradition of Irish folklore.

Personal Pronouns and the Unpronounced Self

“He sang that song.  That was his song” (Joyce 7). In terms of lexicon and syntax, these two sentences are undeniably simple; yet, to any reader in modernist mode, the thought conveyed in them is not.  As in the sentence, “He was baby tuckoo,” the ubiquitous personal pronouns “he” and “his” are used ambiguously here.  Once again, the noun phrase “He” in the sentence “He sang that song” does not specify the subject clearly.  Who is “He”? Does the pronoun refer to the father, the narrator of the tale with which Portrait opens, or to “baby tuckoo,” a “nicens little” character in that tale? Is this song still part of the “moocow” tale, or has the novel moved on—or back—in time, as the new paragraph suggests? Do the pronouns, perhaps, refer to Stephen Daedalus, whose experiences are the subject of Portrait? The verb phrase “was his song” in “That was his song” (in which the noun has been deleted and reduced to the rudimentary noun phrase “that”) raises even more intriguing questions:  Whose song is that?  Does a singer, through his rendition of a song, become its proprietor?  Can we tell the singer from the song or the narrator from the narrative?  The child, of course, is not conscious of such modernist complexities, and, once again, the ambiguously used personal pronoun signals to the reader that the child lacks an understanding of distinctions between fact and fiction, of narrator and narration.  

The opening passages of the novel (e.g. “His father told him that story”) already established the child’s connection to the father whose otherness he notices, as well as the child’s very basic understanding of the concept of “father” (as opposed to, say, “the one with the hairy face”).  Certain features and characteristics of the one telling the tale have enabled the child to identify him as his paternal caregiver.  

If the child has developed this basic understanding of otherness, does that imply, as well, that he has developed a basic understanding of self?  The profusion of personal pronouns may provide an answer: While sentences such as “His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face” pose no pronoun-antecedent problem for the readers, since they can easily equate “He” with “father,” the pronoun “His” in the noun phrase “His father” does not provide the reader with an antecedent, and therefore not with a basic definition of the possessive pronoun “His”.  Interestingly, however, an attempt at pronominalization through the exchange of seemingly ambiguous pronouns such as “him” and “his” with the proper name, Stephen Daedalus, in “His father told [Stephen Daedalus] that story,” or “[Stephen Daedalus’ father looked at him through a glass” diminishes the clarity of the relationship between father and son implied in a statement such as “His father told him that story” since “his” is not unequivocally anaphoric.  

Young Daedalus, although the subject of Portrait, is reduced to being the indirect object of sentences such as “His father told him that story.”  Merely implied in noun phrases such as “His father” or verb phrases such as “looked at him through a glass,” he has not yet been properly introduced at the beginning of the novel, a task of identifying and distinguishing which is left to Daedalus himself as he utters his proper name later on.  It becomes quite clear, therefore, that the child, at this point in his development, still lacks a sense of self.  In short, the profusion of personal pronouns in the opening passages of Portrait enables Joyce to establish the child’s rudimentary understanding of the concept of “father” which is based upon distinguishable features, whereas the concept of “self” has not yet been grasped in these early stages of development.

A Pain in the Air

The fellows laughed; but he felt that they were a little afraid.  In the silence of the soft grey air he heard the cricket-bats from here and from there: pock.  That was a sound to hear but if you were hit then you would feel a pain.  (45)

With the notable exception of the Noun + Noun compound “cricket-bats,” the verbs, nouns and adjectives in this passage are still mostly—and in the last sentence even exclusively—monosyllabic.  They are indicative of a lexicon that is still rudimentary, whereas the onomatopoetic “pock,” used here to recreate a particular sound (“That was a sound to hear”) illustrates that measures are taken to supply what is wanting in this lexicon.  The verbs, nouns, and adjectives in this passage also suggest how the child makes sense of his environment, namely through touch (“soft,” “if you were hit then you would feel a pain”), sight (“grey”), and hearing (“laughed,” “silence,” “he heard,” “pock,” “a sound to hear”).  By now, young Daedalus has begun to discover the interconnectedness and relativity of such sense experiences as well.  The “air,” for example, is at once “soft,” “grey,” and in a state of “silence,” while various sounds—the fellows’ laughter, the pock of the cricket-bats—are perceived to be coexistent in this state of relative silence.    

The sentence structure is also an indication that the child’s thoughts have gained some level of complexity here, as coordinating conjunctions (“but,” “and”), subordinating conjunctions (“if”), conjunctive adverbs (“then”), as well as subordinate clauses (“if you were hit”) enter the syntax.  What is particularly striking in this passage is the way in which such conjunctions and clauses establish connections between various senses.  To the mature, reasonable reader, the conjunction “but” may not seem well-chosen in the sentence “That was a sound to hear but if you were hit then you would feel a pain” because both sensations, hearing the bat’s “pock” and feeling its impact are not mutually exclusive or contradictory.  To Stephen Daedalus, however—who, being introduced to a flogging ritual, is pondering the connections between sound and touch (the “different kinds of pains for all different kinds of sounds”)—the conjunction “but” is well chosen, indeed, because the anticipated impact (“if you were hit”) of the bat is expected to cancel out other sensations, such as sound.

Making sense of the world also means interpreting sensorial input, as the use of the conjunctive, signaling a process of reasoning (“if”/”then,” “would”), the use of the second person singular or plural (“you”) which relates Daedalus, the fellows, and the reader in a universal discourse, as well as the conjunction “but” in the co-ordinate clauses “The fellows laughed; but he felt that they were a little afraid” illustrate.  While the experienced adult knows that laughter may be a sign of joy, sarcasm, anxiety or fear, the young child still perceives laughter to be at variance with fear.  After all, Daedalus does not hear the fear in the fellows’ laughter (or, at least, he is not aware of it yet), he senses the fear without being able to base it upon a particular stimulus: he “felt” it.  

Therefore, “but” is, once again, well chosen as a conjunction, since it allows Joyce to portray the child’s reasoning.  In the child’s state of synesthesia, the sounds of laughter and cricket-bats linked to the sensation of being hit trigger an emotional response (fear) that is at once based upon certain, clearly identified stimuli and an unspecified supersensorial awareness.  The “pock” of the bat is linked to pain, whereas the laughter of the fellows is linked to fear.  Thus, sense experiences—which are competing with and informing each other—create an ominous atmosphere of fear in which the cricket-bats, which are isolated here from the hitter, become a threatening force.

Thoughts of Insubordination

This spirit of quarrelsome comradeship which he had observed lately in his rival had not seduced Stephen from his habits of quiet obedience.  He mistrusted the turbulence and doubted the sincerity of such comradeship which seemed to him a sorry anticipation of manhood.  The question of honour here raised was, like all such questions, trivial to him.  While his mind had been pursuing its intangible phantoms and turning in irresolution from such pursuit, he had heard about him the constant voices of his father and his masters, urging him to be a gentleman above all things and urging him to be a good catholic above all things.  (83)

The lexicon here differs significantly from that of the previously discussed passages, since it now includes increasingly polysyllabic words consisting of free and bound morphemes other than the inflectional tense markers and plural markers that have already entered the language on a far more elementary level.  Among the various affixes in this passage are the prefixes “in-” or “mis,” for example, which denote that the concepts expressed in the free morpheme, namely “tangible” and “trust” have been discovered to be reversible.  Derivational affixes include the suffixes “-ship” and “hood” which denote a process of categorizing and conceptualizing, as the concept of “manhood” is derived from the individual “man” or “comradeship” from the individual “comrade.”  Another suffix used here is the adjectivalizer “-some” in “quarrelsome,” meaning “tending to be” or “being like”; it creates an adjective quite different from those found in the previously discussed paragraph, “soft” and “grey,” since it not only assigns a certain quality to the noun, but also creates comparisons and generalizations.  This process of generalizing and conceptualizing is apparent in the nominalizer “ity,” as well, which transforms the adjective “sincere” into the noun “sincerity,” meaning “state of being sincere.”

Furthermore, the lexicon has been expanded to include words derived from Latin and Old French (such as “phantom,” “anticipation,” “intangible,” or “irresolution”) conveying complex concepts and notions which further attest to the increasing sophistication of the child’s thoughts.  By now Daedalus deals with “intangible phantoms,” rather than tangible sense experiences.  In fact, the mind, which, in itself in a state of confusion, is at once “pursuing its intangible phantoms” and “turning in irresolution from such pursuits,” operates simultaneously to—but separate from—sense experience (“While his mind . . . he had heard”).  Nouns such as “comradeship,” “manhood,” “honour,” “obedience,” “gentleman,” or “catholic” pertain to social constructs, most of which are, along with “masters” and “father,” rooted in patriarchal tradition, indicate that Daedalus, in his reasoning, has left the woods of vernal impulses to find himself, while still a child, enmeshed, however reluctantly, in the philosophical and sociological implications of adulthood.  Those established norms and constructs seem to trigger certain emotional responses, expressed in nouns such as “turbulence” and “irresolution,” and the passage appears to be rife with confusion, anxiety, and rebellious teen spirit, related through nouns (“rival,” and especially “question” and “questions”), verbs (“mistrusted” and “doubted”), and adjectives (“quarrelsome,” “sorry” and “trivial”).  

In addition to the expanded lexicon, the sentence structure, too, has gained complexity, as techniques of embedding (“which he had observed lately,” “which seemed to him a sorry anticipation of manhood,” “like all such questions”) enter the syntax.  And yet, while quite controlled, the syntax, too, enables Joyce to further support this state of confusion expressed in the extraordinary jumble of nouns (“habits” and “irresolution,” “obedience” and “turbulence,” “things” and “phantoms”).  The noun phrases in the independent clauses, for example, alternate between the imposed concept (“spirit of quarrelsome comradeship” and “The question of honour raised here”) and the opposed individual (“He,” “he”), a technique heightens the sense of inner turmoil and argument expressed in this paragraph.

Confusions abound as the child also experiences seemingly conflicting messages from home and school: “the constant voices of his father and his masters, urging him to be a gentleman above all things and urging him to be a good catholic above all things.”  To a boy who has been exposed to the fatty fingers and pointed nails of Mr. Gleeson, as well as the rituals of smugging and flogging, such concepts of “gentleman” and “good catholic” may already be riddled with contradictions.  Into an otherwise complex hierarchical structure of embedded phrases and subordinate clauses slips the coordinating conjunction “and” which presents the concepts of “gentleman” and “catholic” and the commands in which they are expressed (“to be,” “above all things”) as being of equal significance, even though, in terms of logic alone, only one concept can, by definition, stand “above all things.”  Had Joyce relied more fully on the recursive property of language, the dependent clause linked to “he had heard about him the constant voices of his father and his master,” might have been abridged and transformed into “urging him to be a gentleman and a good catholic above all things.”  However, this would not have had expressed the child’s conflict nearly as forcefully and convincingly.  

Thus, the unity of home and school is in question, just as the peers of young Daedalus seem to have become engaged in adolescent rituals alien to the child.  After all, against what or whom is Daedalus really rebelling?  Daedalus does not mistrust, doubt, and trivialize societal norms, but, instead, the adolescent behavior he “observed lately” among his peers.  The true rebels appear to be his “rivals,” whereas Daedalus, suspicious of such rebellion, resists the apparent attractions of adolescence (which “had not seduced Stephen”) in favor of “his habits of quiet obedience.”  

The passage, therefore, suggests not only that the child, observing his peers “lately” in a questionable mode of “anticipation of manhood,” is torn between societal concepts of school and home, between peers and superiors, between an irresolute mind and his hearing of “the constant voices” which are “about him,” but also that Daedalus, still “not seduced” by adolescence, is being left behind in a state of turmoil in which “the habits of quiet obedience,” have already lost their comforts.

Alliterative Survival

He halted on the landing before the door and then, grasping the porcelain knob, opened the door quickly.  He waited in fear, his soul pining within him, praying silently that death might not touch his brow as he passed over the threshold, that the fiends that inhabit darkness might not be given power over him.  He waited still at the threshold as at the entrance to some dark cave.  Faces were there; eyes: they waited and watched.  (136)

The obvious cohesive devices in the sentences quoted above are alliterations and assonances, as either initial sounds (“pining” and “praying,” “fear” and “fiends,” “waited and watched”), vowel sounds in stressed syllables (“pining within him”, “silently”), morphemes (“dark,” dark-”) or entire words (“waited,” “door,” “threshold”) are repeated.  Phonological cohesion through assonance is particularly pronounced in the first sentence (“before the door,” “porcelain knob,” and “opened the door”).  What stands, literally, between the closed and open door, between the motionless (“halted”) “before the door” and the motion “opened the door” is the “porcelain knob.”  In contrast to the long vowel sounds of “before,” “door,” “porcelain,” as well as “halted,” through which the slow motion of that moment becomes known, stand the short vowel sounds of “quickly,” which signals, in sound and in sense, the rashness of the action after a longer period of indecision.  

The contrast between stasis and action is enforced by the syntax as well.  Whereas the pivotal and focal “porcelain knob” is embedded into the center of the sentence, the adverb has been removed from the verb it modifies (“opened”) and has been foregrounded by being pushed, instead, to the end of the sentence, effectively.  Furthermore, the shift from stasis (“halted”) to action (“grasping”) is signaled by the conjunction “and” and the conjunctive adverb “then.”

Structural parallels link the sentence discussed above to the two subsequent sentences, since all three sentences start with the same short noun phrase, “He,” followed by a longer verb phrase which begins with a verb expressing non-motion (either “halted” or “waited”).  The only other motion verb, “passed over” suggests death and otherwoldliness rather than liveliness, particularly when linked to threshold, just as this entire paragraph is filled with religious references (“soul,” “praying,” “death,” “fiends”) or metaphors for dying (“door,” “threshold,” “entrance”).  The parataxis makes quite clear that, even after the child’s sudden activity, the moment of torpor is far from over, but continues to dominate the child’s mind.  

After the first three sentences, a new noun phrase (“Faces”) is introduced and exchanged for another (“eyes”), and the personal pronoun “he,” established in the first three sentences, is replaced by the personal pronouns “they,” followed by the verb “waited” in the verb phrase (“waited and watched”) previously linked to “He.”  This creates the feeling of opposing forces, both waiting for the next move.  After all, it is not only Daedalus who waited, but there, on the other side, are the “faces” and “fiends that inhabit the darkness.”

The crucial turning of the door knob seems to have consumed almost all of the child’s mental and physical energy, even the very core of his existence (his “soul” is “pining”), and a young, passive Daedalus feels that he has to pray not be overpowered by the “fiends that inhabit the darkness” into whose realm he passes.  The silent prayer is directed toward a higher being, since, as the transformation involving “fiends [. . .] given power over him” indicates, those “fiends” are not self-empowered either, but receive it from an all-controlling distributor.  It becomes clear that Daedalus, while still praying not to be overpowered by evil forces, has already been overpowered by fear.  

Thus, this paragraph, while also revealing a moment of anxiety, differs dramatically from the earlier stage of the child’s development as expressed in the previous passage.  Rather than passionately engaging in discourse and cockily critiquing conflicting and confusing influences and commands (such as being a “good catholic”), rather than trying to make sense of an overwhelming muddle of concepts and forces, the child, at this particular moment, appears to be almost entirely stifled by them.  Are these the consequences of the “habits of quiet obedience”?

And Game

He was alone.  He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life.  He was alone and young and willful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures, of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.  (171)

The cohesive devices used in this passage may not be entirely unlike those of the two passages discussed previously; the effects produced, however, could hardly be more different.   Again, alliterations (“seaharvest of shells,” and “sunlight” or the glides in “wild,” “willful,” “wildhearted,” “waste,”  “waters”) are aptly applied as they set the scenery by linking elements in nature (the “shells” at the shore, the sea, and the sun), and by linking the youthful Daedalus to those elements (Daedalus is “wildhearted,” the air is “wild”).  The interconnectedness of various elements is supported by the repetition of morphemes (“-clad,” “-ish”), particularly in the way in which free morphemes are linked to other morphemes to create different, yet related, words (“wild-” in “wildhearted,” “girl-” in “girlish,” or “child-” in “children” and “childish”).  In addition to morphemes, entire words are repeated (“he,” “alone,” “wild,” “air,” “and”) and therefore emphasized.  The lexicon is also of a remarkable simplicity.  Almost entirely free from latinate expressions (with the exception of “figure,” derived from “fingere,” and voice, which can be traced back to “vox”), the nouns, once again, pertain to elements in nature (such as “air,” “sunlight,” “water”), to tangible objects, including people (“figures,” “children,” “girls”) which can be experienced through the senses.

In addition to the repetition of consonances, morphemes, and words, the passage is also structured through repetitions in syntax.  The sentence structure is simple and stands in sharp contrast to the complexities of earlier passages.  In fact, it is of a simplicity not employed since the rendering of the earliest stages of the child’s development.  The surface structure of a sentence such as “He was alone” can be derived, once again, directly from its underlying structure, since the constituents, noun phrase (“He”) and verb phrase (“was alone”) are not subjected to transformations.  

Parataxis structures individual sentences as the coordinating conjunction “and”—which is used once in the second sentence and eleven times in the third—allows for links between lexical items (“shells and tangle and . . . sunlight and . . . figures”), as well as basic transformations (“He was alone and young and willful and wildhearted,” for example, has the underlying structure “He was alone and he was young and he was willful and he was wildhearted”).  

Yet parataxis not only structures the individual sentences, it also links the three syntactically similar sentences which all consist of a short noun phrase, the personal pronoun “He,” followed by a verb phrase beginning with the auxiliary verb “was.”  Thus, all three sentences elaborate on the statement so clearly expressed in the first sentence: “He was alone.”  In the last sentence this form of addition creates an apparent contradiction, since Daedalus, “amid” this lively scene of nature, of children and young girls, hardly seems alone at all.  Instead, one might be tempted to conclude, the lone individual, Daedalus, may almost disappear in this tangle.  And yet, while the lack of subordination and hierarchy in which all elements appear to be equivalent suggests such an ensnaring web of intertwined objects, young Daedalus is clearly not in a state of anxiety; nor is he, despite the lack of verbs, in a moment of stasis.  To be sure, the sentences here are essentially verbless (even the verb “to veil” is used adverbially here) and consist exclusively of adjectives, nouns, and the conjunctions and prepositions through which they are linked.  However, as the life-affirming adjectives clarify, Daedalus is “happy,” “willful,” and wildhearted.”  He is not only “near to the wild heart of life,” he is truly “amid” it all without being subjected to scrutiny and judgment (“unheeded”).  Going unnoticed here is empowering, and being at once apart from and a part of this scene links him to the elements and connects him with the strangers at the beach.  

Beyond this communal experience in the wild setting of nature, Daedalus also senses what it means to be young, yet no longer a child.  Joyce distinguishes here between “children” and “girls,” not between “boys” and “girls.”  Quite clearly, Stephen Daedalus has outgrown boyhood, and the “girls” and “girlish” voices he notices and isolates from other children and other “childish” voices are those who hold the promises of heterosexual encounter.  Thus, Daedalus experiences a moment in which he fully enjoys his otherness and realizes his existence in the chain of nature’s elements without subjecting this discovery of being “near to the wild heart of life,” which is a visceral, not an intellectual one, to the dissecting tools of reasoning.


As the selected passages discussed above reveal, Joyce employs a variety of literary devices which enable the reader to follow young Daedalus through several stages of his cognitive, psychosocial, and sexual development, from the unconscious wanderings of early childhood to the equally instinct-driven sexual awakening of adolescence, from the oral pleasures of “lemon platt” to the promises of sexual encounters.  Within this frame (in which Joyce’s novel is by no means entirely contained), Portrait captures the many dramatic stages of discovery, such as the realization of otherness and self, the figuring out of societal roles and responsibilities, as well as the development of perception and reasoning skill.  In short, Joyce’s language conveys many of the universal moments of anxiety and excitement which govern, lest we forget, our childhood—and our lives.

Works Cited

Gifford, Don.  Joyce Annotated: Notes for Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  U of California P, 1982.

Joyce, James.  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  1916.  Viking, 1972.

“Lemon.”  Oxford English Dictionary. 1989 ed.